Seeking to catch and eventually deter addicts who steal painkillers, the New York Police Department will stock pharmacy shelves with decoy pill bottles that contain tracking devices.
The novel response to a deadly increase in pharmacy robberies and burglaries over the last half decade appears to draw its inspiration from a tactic banks use: handing over a bundle of bills loaded with an exploding dye pack that stains both the cash and the robber red.
The decoy pill bottles appear to be sealed bottles of oxycodone, a powerful narcotic painkiller that is widely abused, according to remarks that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, made on Tuesday. The bottles will not actually contain any painkillers. Inside each bottle, however, will be a GPS device that will allow detectives to track thieves in the period immediately after a robbery or burglary.
“We would anticipate the burglar and robber will take numerous bottles, and among them will be the bait bottle,” the department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said.
The bottles are weighted and rattle when shaken, so a thief would not initially realize they did not contain pills. Each of the decoy bottles sits atop a special base, and when the bottle is lifted from the base, it begins to emit a tracking signal, Mr. Browne said.
“We would like to get all 1,800 pharmacies in New York City to sign up,” he said, adding that the department hoped to have the program in place by March.
The decoy bottles were developed by Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, a brand of oxycodone, Mr. Browne said, adding that they were already in use in some pharmacies in the United States. He said that the pharmaceutical company currently relied on another company to track the bottles, but that the Police Department intended to take over that responsibility in New York.
A Purdue Pharma spokeswoman, Libby Holman, said that the company was working closely with the police in New York, but that “it would not be appropriate” to disclose details.
Mr. Kelly announced the initiative at a Clinton Foundation conference in California.
The initiative comes as authorities across New York State are grappling with a rash of deadly pharmacy robberies. In April, two men robbed a pharmacy at gunpoint in East Harlem, seeking OxyContin and Percocet. After one of the robbers fired at responding police officers, he was shot dead by a retired officer who happened to be filling his car at a nearby gasoline station.
And on Long Island, a man murdered a pharmacist, a clerk and two customers in the course of stealing thousands of pain pills from the Haven Drugs pharmacy in Medford in June 2011. Some six months later, an off-duty federal agent, John Capano, was killed foiling a robbery at Charlie’s Family Pharmacy in Seaford.
Craig Burridge, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, said such decoy bottles were already in use in pharmacies in Suffolk County. He called the bottles a “clever and cost-effective” way to confront the rise in violent crimes at pharmacies.
A Suffolk County detective lieutenant, Robert Donohue, said in a statement that the county’s Police Department was using “various technologies to reduce pharmacy robberies and apprehend and prosecute offenders.”
The advent of the decoy bottles has led the New York Police Department to consider a somewhat fanciful idea: that the police may one day be able to track not just bottles, but also individual pills.
By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
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Police to Use Fake Pill Bottles to Track Drugstore Thieves